Utah's wildlife vote amendment appeal goes to US Circuit

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Wildlife Vote Amendment Appealed

June 27, 2002

BY BRENT ISRAELSEN, THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

   Opponents of a recent Utah constitutional amendment that makes it difficult for voters to pass wildlife-related ballot initiatives are taking their case to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

   The Washington, D.C.-based Initiative and Referendum Institute, the Humane Society and two-dozen other groups filed an appeal notice Wednesday with U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, where Judge Tena Campbell last fall threw out the groups' claim that the amendment violates protections on free speech.

   "We feel confident the free-speech issue is something we can ultimately prevail on," said Lisa Watts Baskin, a Salt Lake City lawyer who represents opponents of the 1998 amendment called Proposition 5.

   The amendment, which took effect in January 1999, requires a two-thirds majority vote to pass a ballot initiative on wildlife issues. All other issues require only a simple majority.

   Environmental, animal-rights and voter-rights groups say the Utah amendment violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because it "chills" activists' capacity to exercise their right to free speech. The burden of attracting a two-thirds majority vote to change state wildlife policy is so high that wildlife issues are likely never to appear on ballot initiatives in Utah, said Watts Baskin.

   Last September, Campbell threw out the First Amendment challenge, saying the amendment does not prohibit or discourage anyone from talking about wildlife issues.

   Thom Roberts, an assistant Utah attorney general defending the amendment, said he is confident the appellate court will agree with Campbell.

   "The people of Utah can still approach public officials about wildlife issues. They can still band together, argue and seek a ballot initiative on wildlife matters. The only thing this amendment does it make it more difficult for an initiative to pass," he said.

   Watts Baskin's clients also had challenged the Utah constitutional amendment under the U.S. Constitution's equal-protection doctrine.

   But last week, that claim was dismissed at the request of the parties. The dismissal was a technicality that will allow Watts Baskins to file her appeal on the First Amendment grounds.

   Proposition 5 -- one of three ballot initiatives ever to succeed -- grew out of a movement by hunting groups to prevent animal-rights advocates from enacting animal-protection laws by ballot initiative -- a tactic the animal-rights groups used in other states.
 

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